Online safety basics
Help your children safely navigate their digital world and educate them to avoid harmful online experiences. Explore websites, games, apps and social media together and set some rules.
Your support and guidance can give your children the confidence to make sound decisions online — and ask for help when they need it.
Three key strategies
Be engaged, open and supportive
- Get involved. Share online time with your children as part of family life. Play games together. Talk about favourite apps, games or websites.
- Keep lines of communication open. Ask about their online experiences, who they are talking to and whether they are having any issues.
- Reassure your child they can always come to you, no matter what. Let them know you will not cut off internet access if they report feeling uncomfortable or unsafe when online — this is a real concern that may stop your child from communicating with you openly.
- If you notice a change in behaviour or mood, talk to your child about it. If you are concerned, consider seeking professional help — from your GP, a psychologist or school counsellor.
Set some rules
- Set age-appropriate rules for devices and online access, with consequences for breaking them.
- Seek your child’s input — this will help them understand risks. As they get older you can review your rules.
- Consider creating a family online safety contract as a way to help you agree on the rules, and renegotiate it as required.
- The contract could cover the type of websites that can be visited, time spent online and acceptable online behaviour. This example from ThinkUKnow Australia can be a good starting point.
- The consequences for breaking the rules should be clear and should mean something to your child. Raising Children Network has some useful tips and advice.
- Consider making some ‘rules for parents’ too — and stick to them! Model behaviour that you would like to see.
Use the available technology
- Get to know the devices you and your children use and set them up for privacy and online safety. Take advantage of parental controls to monitor and control screen time and access to content in ways appropriate to your child’s age and experience. See our guide to taming the technology.
- Choose apps and games carefully, taking age ratings and consumer advice into account. Check the App Store or Google Play, and for games, the Australian Classification Board’s online database. NetAware (UK) has a comprehensive guide to popular social media apps and games. The Australian Council on Children and the Media and Common Sense Media (US) both offer information about apps, games and websites searchable by age.
Targeted advice for parents of
Online activity can offer preschool-aged children opportunities to learn through exploration, play and social interaction. It can also help develop their digital literacy in preparation for starting school.
But there may be risks if they use connected devices without supervision or for extended periods of time. Your child may accidentally come across inappropriate content, be exposed to potential contact with strangers and miss out on physical activity.
At this age, it is important to
- Closely supervise your child’s online activity. Explore content together. Play games together.
- Find age-appropriate content. See are they old enough?
- Limit the time your child spends online to ensure a good balance with physical activity. See time online.
- Try to stick to the rules you set — not giving in to demands for more time will help in still good online habits for your child now and in the future.
- Start the conversation about safe and respectful behaviour online. It is never too early to do this and to help your child understand that what they say or do online is important. See good habits start young.
Technology tips for parents of preschoolers
- Ensure your own devices are protected by a password or pin, so your child cannot accidentally go online without you.
- Set parental controls on your computer, phone and any other devices your child will use so you can restrict content to apps and sites you have chosen. Choose a handful of sites you are comfortable with, and plug them into the device your child uses. You can add to the list as they get older and need greater access. See taming the technology.
- Check out Raising Children Network’s healthy screen time and quality media choices: 2-5 years.
As children start to navigate the online world and interact with others more independently, they are more likely to be exposed to risks of bullying or unwanted contact, accidentally coming across inappropriate content or racking up bills through in-app purchases.
Your guidance can help them be aware of the risks and understand what is expected of them. And let them know you are always there to support them.
For kids aged 5 to 12, it is important to
- Keep the computer or device in an area of your home that can be supervised. And check in regularly with your child to see what they are viewing.
- Stay engaged with their online activity. If they agree, consider setting up your own accounts with the sites they use most so you can see how they work and understand the risks.
- Explore the online world with them to help establish that this is not just a solitary activity. Play games with them. Do a creative project together.
- Think about social media readiness. Most social media sites require users to be at least 13 years of age before they can register, although some sites are created especially for children under 13. See are they old enough?
- Encourage respect and empathy. Teach them to avoid sharing or posting things that may upset others. See good habits start young.
- Start building resilience. Teach your child that there are ways they can deal with material that worries or frightens them. This includes immediately telling you or another trusted adult of any concerns or uncomfortable material. See good habits start young.
- Encourage them to learn about online safety by exploring the kids section of this site.
Review your rules as your child grows older
- Be clear about how much time they can spend online, the apps they can use, the websites they can visit and what they can share or post online.
- Refer to our advice about time online and online gaming if these are of concern.
Technology tips for parents of kids 5 to 12
- Ensure your own devices are protected by a password or pin, so your child cannot accidentally come across inappropriate content.
- If you are thinking about giving them their own tablet or smartphone, check out are they old enough?
- Use parental control tools appropriate for the age and experience of your child. Be upfront about this and get your child on board. Let them know that these can be reviewed and changed as they get older and they continue to demonstrate responsible behaviour. Consider installing a ‘child-friendly’ search engine that will allow them to explore a limited number of sites. See taming the technology.
- Check out Raising Children Network’s healthy screen time and quality media choices: 6-11 years.
Teenagers can spend a lot of time online — instant messaging, sharing photos and videos, playing online games and using online chat and voice chat through social media services can be a big part of their social identity.
It can be a great experience but there are risks. You can help equip them with the skills to manage these risks and deal with negative situations.
For teenagers, it is important to
- Keep things open. Have an ‘open door’ policy when devices are used in bedrooms, and check in with them regularly to see what they are viewing.
- Stay engaged. Ask about their online experiences, who they are talking to online and whether they are having any issues.
- Reinforce the importance of protecting their personal information and privacy. Remind them to create screen names or IDs that do not indicate gender, age, name or location and are not sexually suggestive.
- Explain that linking social media accounts can make it easier for strangers to learn about them, so it is best to keep accounts separate.
- Encourage them to think before they post. They should ask questions like: Who might see this? Could it be misread by others? Am I creating the right image for myself socially and for school and work opportunities?
- Remind them that they could expose themselves to risk by sharing sexually suggestive or intimate images of themselves or others. Check out our advice on sending nudes and sexting.
- Keep building self-respect, empathy and resilience. In particular, be aware of the impact of social media on self-esteem. See good habits start young.
- Help them understand online risks and what to do about them by exploring the young people section of this site.
Continue to review your rules as your child grows older
- Be clear about where and when devices can be used — not at mealtimes, for example, or not until after chores or homework are done.
- Agree on a plan that fits into family routines — perhaps more screen time on the weekend when they have less schoolwork.
- Refer to our advice about time online and online gaming if these are of concern.
Technology tips for parents of teenagers
- Use parental controls appropriately for the age and experience of your child — see taming the technology.
- As they grow more independent and resilient, good open communication becomes more important than blocking or filtering content — realistically your teenager will become increasingly adept at getting around such parental controls anyway.
- Check out Raising Children Network’s Healthy screen time and quality media choices: teenagers.
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